By Alixandria Wells-Good
Over the last five years, the south end of Urbana has been seeing a lot of development.
Urbana Elementary and Junior High welcomed students to a brand new building on U.S. Route 68 in 2018.
The Cobblestone Hotel on the corner of U.S. Route 68 and state Route 55 opened its doors in 2020 and Sutphen Corporation opened a new plant this year on Edgewood Avenue.
For local businessman Terry Howell and Howell Land Development, the south end of Urbana is an opportunity to expand on the growth Urbana has been experiencing in recent years and help revitalize the south gateway into Urbana.
Prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, Howell and a group of investors planned and completed the Cobblestone Hotel and Suites. The location was picked after a feasibility study that the investment group had conducted showed that as the top preferred location.
While building the hotel, Howell kept noticing the lot across the street, the “old bank building,” and felt that it was an underutilized location, especially in the blossoming south end area. In 2021 the Howell family, through Howell Land Development, acquired the lot at 1300 South Main with grand ideas of its potential.
The land at 1300 S. Main St. was at one time part of the Champaign County Fair holdings. According to documents at the Champaign County Historical Society, the Champaign County Fair Board purchased “22 acres at the corner of 55 and 68” in 1858. The document, a piece by Doug Dill in 2011 for the “Champaign Chronicles,” also states that during the Civil War soldiers trained at the fairgrounds at this location. Later 1300 South Main became home of a Citizens Bank. The building was designed by McCall Sharp, formerly of Urbana, in 1995. The building still stands there today.
After acquiring the lot and building, Howell brought in architect Sarah Mackert to help “conceptualize what could be done there.” Mackert, an Urbana native, now works at her own firm SJM Studio, and has designed a modern building at 1300 South Main that also honors the original space and utilizes the lot to its full potential. The group hoped that Mackert could create something eye-catching that will get people entering the city excited to be there, and they believe that she has done just that.
Terry’s son, Andy Howell, also an Urbana native who now lives in Columbus and works as a Realtor, is also very invested in this project. He says that in his work, a lot of his business is people who are relocating from across the country to Columbus, for many different reasons.
He explained, “What I’m also seeing is a lot of people who have been in Columbus are moving back to some of the small towns.” From his point of view, he says that he looks at Urbana and sees the city having a “renaissance” and is excited to be a part of that. Urbana is growing and changing, while keeping the same small-town charm and vibes, as well as the small-town care that people who live here put into the community.
Andy says that when he thought of what Urbana needed to keep up with this growth, his mind went to health and wellness. So with that in mind, the group decided to make the focus of their new project at 1300 South Main “health and wellness.” Their dream for the space was to have tenants that focus on that theme, and also places where people will enjoy spending their time focusing on those things.
Mackert viewed the project as an opportunity to not only be a part of Urbana’s “renaissance” but also “setting the tone for Urbana” as people enter the city on the south end. As she began her design work, she wanted to make sure that she was “elevating as much as possible, not only the use which is the most important thing, but what it looks like.”
Mackert made sure to center her design around the “historic core” just as she has done with her other work in Urbana.
After college, starting a family, and beginning her career as an architect, Mackert moved back to Urbana to be near her family. She said that she assumed she would do some work here in the small town, but that most of her work would still be in Columbus. She says that after moving back she quickly realized it would be the exact opposite. She shared how refreshing it was to come back and work with so many people who are passionate about their projects not just for business but as investments in the community.
Mackert and Andy Howell shared how important they believe this project is to the growth in Urbana. Their focus on health and wellness needs being met all in one location is one thing that they believe the community doesn’t have a lot of yet. Urbana has a large commerce district, a growing downtown district, and when 1300 South Main is completed they hope to fill it with tenants in the health and wellness theme to serve the community in an area that they feel is currently underserved. Mackert shares that she knows that “people have been afraid of change for so long, it’s really important when you make change to do it as well as you possibly can.” And the group has put a lot of work into doing just that.
Phase 1 of the project, which is well under way now, is hoped to be completed in the coming months. While they have several tenants already lined up, within their health and wellness focus, they hope to be able to expand even further with Phase 2 of the project. Phase 2 will involve a second building that will be home to more tenants, and an outdoor area that will encourage pedestrian connectivity. Terry Howell and the group hope to continue into Phase 2 of the project in 2024.
Reach the writer at [email protected]